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The Hustle

One Team and Ten Lives in Black and White

Doug Merlino

Bloomsbury USA

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ISBN10: 1608192598
ISBN13: 9781608192595


320 Pages



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Winner of the Washington State Book Award

The experiment was dreamed up by two fathers, one white, one black. What would happen, they wondered, if they mixed white players from an elite Seattle private school—famous for alums such as Microsoft's Bill Gates—and black kids from the inner city on a basketball team? Wouldn't exposure to privilege give the black kids a chance at better opportunities? Wouldn't it open the eyes of the white kids to a different side of life?

The 1986 season would be the laboratory. Out in the real world, hip-hop was going mainstream, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson ruled the NBA, and Ronald Reagan was president. In Seattle, the team's season unfolded like a perfectly scripted sports movie: the ragtag group of boys became friends and gelled together to win the league championship. The experiment was deemed a success.

But was it? How did crossing lines of class, race, and wealth affect the lives of these ten boys? Two decades later, Doug Merlino, who played on the team, returned to find his teammates. His search ranges from a prison cell to a hedge fund office, street corners to a shack in rural Oregon, a Pentecostal church to the records of a brutal murder. The result is a complex, gripping, and, at times, unsettling story.

The Hustle tells the personal and public stories of ten teammates against a backdrop of broad social and economic change, capturing the ways race, money, and opportunity shape their lives as they look for their places in America.


Praise for The Hustle

"Mindful of the lessons of Du Bois, Dr. King, and others, Doug Merlino shatters post-race fantasies and bears witness to immigrant and African-American struggles, past and present, and weaves them into a captivating, unsentimental and sometimes tragic story of dreams realized, deferred and/or destroyed."—Nigel Hatton, University of California, Merced

"Anyone concerned with improving the U.S. educational system must read this book, which brilliantly highlights the problems and possibilities facing schools and students. At the same time, Doug Merlino also tells a broader story of race in America that vividly brings ten boys, and the men they became, to life. The Hustle is a wonderful reading experience."—Robert L. Bernstein, founder, Human Rights Watch; former president, Random House

"Working on an apparently small canvas, Doug Merlino has managed to look widely and deeply into race and class, idealism and dead-end despair in America. This unusual combination of sensitive memoir and incisive reporting tells us a great deal about the nation we are and the one we dream of. A fascinating and haunting book."—Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost and Bury the Chains

"The Hustle somewhat resembles the great documentary series Seven Up, which provides now-and-then profiles of kids shaped by the English class system. Only here, both race and class come into play. Most interesting and affecting about the book are Merlino's conversations with former teammates—resumed, as it were, after a 15-year gap."—Seattle Weekly

"You know those rare books that hold your rapt attention, the ones that you keep reading until the sun comes up? Doug Merlino's The Hustle is such a book. Part history text, part sociological study, part memoir, The Hustle is more than just a book about basketball. It's a book about America. It's a book about the country's past and present. It's a book that you have to read."—SLAM Magazine

"By reminding readers that questions of race and social mobility are at bottom really questions about what kind of people are granted what sort of life opportunities, The Hustle allows us to see our often recursive and overheated debates over such questions play out on a personal, frequently tragic scale."—Bookforum

"The book digs deeply, compassionately and intelligently into [race in America]."—TrueHoop,

"A provocative and candid commentary on the history of class, race, and wealth in Seattle and in America."—Seatown Sports

"A captivating memoir that sees racial and class divides in intimate personal terms, but with no easy pieties or excuses, no righteous indignation or blame."—

"As a boy, Doug Merlino was part of something special: A championship basketball team that drew players from both sides of Seattle's racial divide. The Hustle is his elegant, absorbing account of what became of his ex-teammates, and how their lives were inevitably affected by the color of their skin. It is impossible to read this book and not be deeply moved."—Brendan I. Koerner, author of Now the Hell Will Start

"[Merlino] paints a timeline vividly, in fact and circumstance, to unveil twists and turns, sadness and joy, conscience and tragedy . . . A great read."—Douglas Morrison, The Novel Road blog

"Merlino skillfully weaves the personal biographies with the biography of a city that relegated blacks to neighborhoods that were segregated and poor, to the margins of economic life, to public schools that were overcrowded and underfunded. The book's precise focus enables troubling considerations of the role of race and class in America."—Kirkus Reviews

"A very thoughtful, perceptive, and moving chronicle of the journey from adolescence to manhood."—Booklist

"Expecting a conventional basketball book? Look elsewhere. Although the central focus is ten members of a biracial boys basketball team, freelance journalist Merlino, in his first book, is writing about race relations and the changing socioeconomic experiences and expectations of five black and five white kids who came together in 1986 to form an Amateur Athletic Union basketball team in Seattle. The book provides remarkable insight into the fortunes and misfortunes of the ten kids who shared a court but never a dream. For Merlino, who was on the team, the titular hustle is the drive to achieve in today's competitive economy. Readers will witness the omnipresent racial divide in Seattle and the nation, in the workplace, and in a secondary school setting. The chapter on Seattle's Lakeside School, a private K-12 institution, is compelling reading for today's parents and educators. The former teammates whom Merlino traced up to the present include a prosecutor, a financial manager, a preacher/teacher, a writer, a street hustler—and a murder victim. This book, both memoir and social analysis, is an essential read as a recent social history and personal story of America."—Boyd Childress, Auburn University Libraries, Alabama, Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Doug Merlino

Doug Merlino is a veteran journalist who has written for Wired, Men's Journal, Legal Affairs, and many other publications. He previously lived in Budapest after leaving Seattle. He now lives in New York with his wife.